If a state lawmaker from Anniston has his way, a marriage license in Calhoun County could cost an additional $30, taking the price tag from $44 to $74.
The bill by state Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, would split the extra cash, with $20 going to the Calhoun/Cleburne County Children’s Center and $10 divided between the county probate judge’s office and the Calhoun County Commission. (The same extra $30 would apply to a Cleburne County marriage license, as well.)
The nonprofit Children’s Center’s level of funding from the state has been slashed over the past decade. Each cut makes it more difficult to go about its two-fold mission of protecting neglected and sexually abused children and helping to convict their abusers.
Last March, Joe Nabors, the center’s director, told The Star, “Prior to us being in existence, Calhoun County had the highest rates of child abuse in the state, but only two cases a year were successfully being prosecuted.”
Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Weems added, “Without the Children’s Center, we may not be as successful in putting child sex-abuse predators in prison.”
To state the obvious, these missions are essential.
It’s safe to say no one at any level of government wants to see the work of the Children’s Center diminished. Yet, with so many strains on state government’s scarce funds, something has to be cut. Frequently, the cuts happen to agencies that aren’t front and center. While prosecutors say their job is helped immensely by the Children’s Center, it is likely very few law-abiding citizens ever notice the organization.
This same under-the-table dealing applies on the revenue side of the budget equation. A $30 increase in the cost of a marriage license isn’t likely to inspire citizens to take up their torches and pitchforks. Calhoun County Probate Judge Alice Martin said, “When people plan to marry, the cost of marriage licenses is not something they give a lot of thought to.”
In other words, it’s just one more fee we have to pay. (And they are called “fees” because “taxes” are taboo in Alabama’s political culture.)
This sleight-of-hand serves one purpose. It perpetuates the wishful thinking that Alabama can afford all the basics it needs to run a state without raising adequate revenue. This myth is a comfortable pillow for Alabamians to casually rest upon. We wouldn’t want them to be troubled by the fact that less money in the state budget means a potentially easier time for predators of children.
Let us ponder the example of the Calhoun/Cleburne County Children’s Center. The protection of children from sexual abuse and/or neglect is essential. The prosecution of the monsters who would harm a child is equally vital to society’s protection. Local criminal-justice officials, including judges and prosecutors, agree that the center’s work is a tremendous aid to the effort to convict child abusers. Cutting the portion of state funding sent to the center means its vital work suffers, something nobody wants to see happen.
The disconnect comes when Montgomery officials who draft and approve the budget persist in spreading the notion that state government does very little right, and that most of the dollars it spends goes to waste. Government, so the prevailing wisdom goes, is the enemy. It is imagined as a dehumanized form, something that can be regarded as an evil waster of taxpayers’ money.
We don’t need more money, Montgomery’s politicians will say in public, all that’s needed is a little more belt-tightening.
Yet, bills like the one proposing to add $30 to the cost of getting hitched here tell a different story. In this version, we see that the extra cost for a Calhoun County marriage license is projected to raise $20,000 for the Children’s Center. That won’t solve its funding problems caused by year after year of state budget cuts, but it will help. That picture is the humanized form of government’s good, the one where an innocent child gets the protection he or she needs.
This public good costs money, whether Montgomery admits it in public or not.
Bob Davis is editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis.